Faulty Tractor Burns up Engineer’s Backyard

This burned-out hulk of a badly designed tractor (left), which caught fire when trapped grass near the hot muffler ignited (muffler detail,right) has got engineer Mike Cosgrove seriously thinking about getting a goat! Writes Mike: I bought a Sears 22-HP 48-inch cut garden tractor when I moved to acreage. One day when the grass was pretty long, I cut it , then went back over the clippings to do some extra mulching. There was some old, dried thatch mixed in with the clippings. Suddenly I felt some heat on my right foot. Looking down, I noted some burning grass stuck between the muffler, the foot peg for my right foot, and the steering gear for the front wheels. The culprit? The design sucked!

Sears had designed the tractor with such small gaps between these components that there was a fine spot for cut grass to get lodged and then ignited by the hot muffler. I calmly shifted into neutral and got off the seat, shutting down the engine. I kicked the burning grass off the tractor and stomped it out. Unfortunately, grass had caught fire under the tractor. I pushed it out of the way to stomp the flames. Then there was a small fire where the tractor had originally been stopped. I went back for that one. Then things got real interesting. There was still more burning grass under the tractor. Sears designers, in their infinite wisdom, had run the fuel line, a 1/4" unprotected rubber tube, under the frame. It didn't take much time for the fire to melt the tubing, adding 3 gallons of gasoline to the mix. That's when I ran to the house to get my wife to call 911. After a friend and the volunteer fire department helped me put out the fire, I had lost 1 tractor, about 1/2 acre of grass, and 100 feet of plastic fence. Sears wouldn't even answer my letters. Eventually they responded to let me know that they were in no way at fault, that there was nothing at all wrong with their design. When I asked one of their lackeys at headquarters why, if there were not a problem, they had changed the exhaust routing on all their small tractors the next model year (I went to a Sears store to confirm it), this person said they had not made any changes at all. My letter telling her she was either an idiot or a liar went unanswered.



  1. That sounds one frightening experience.

  2. I’ve got a very well engineered John Deere tractor and this happened to me as well this weekend. I was lucky enough to put the fire out before any major damage was done (melted wiring harness and two plastic pulleys).
    A hot muffler simply doesn’t go well with dry thatch. I had some loose thatch flying around quite a bit as I thatched my yard for the spring, and unfortunately all it takes is a single blade or two of thatch to ignite and create a big ‘ol mess.

  3. What model engine was that? Where did the exhaust blow out the hot air?
    I got one that blows hot air out to the front, and it burned some old clippings today. Had a ton of smoke go up in the air. Brand-new Sears tractor too. My old one never did that. I was touching the front right under the hood, and it was crazy hot there.

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